If you can’t maintain a conversation, it’s probably time to find a therapist not a Facebook meme

Over the past month or so, I’ve noticed that more and more often communication is delayed? Stilted? Fading?

Still, I don’t agree with this meme. Post-apocalyptic movies and most of history teaches us that nothing of this magnitude ‘ends’ – our entire world is irrevocably altered in ways we cannot control or understand. Waiting for things to end or return us to our preferred pastimes even our preferred communication tools is futile. We move forward unless we choose to remain stuck in our past.

Of course it is okay to set your own communication schedule. You don’t and never have owed anyone your voice, your words, or your time. Suggesting that it requires a 2 year+ pandemic to claim your autonomy is patriarchal benevolence that we need to leave behind.

I can’t think of any recent exchange – text, DM, PM, email – that has been ‘live.’ And while that does make my own loneliness tough, I have no anticipation of going back to real time communication. Have you tried getting someone to respond to an email? Without texting them to prompt them to look? We sucked at this for years.

To be fair, isolation whether by choice or circumstance numbs your social skills. As a person living with social anxiety, there’s nothing fun or amusing about watching others suffer with what has been my reality for years. But if you can’t maintain a conversation, it’s probably time to find a therapist not a Facebook meme. And no one should judge you for that.

I have a lot of things to say. Things like “Why do you support American fascism?” Or “Yes, you should be familiar with the shortlist for the SCOTUS vacancy. They will define your life.” Or “Have you considered how much more tax you’ll pay to keep bridges from collapsing?” Or “Have you ever read a banned book?” “Do you actually know what Critical Race Theory is?” “Does it matter that soap operas fire anti-vaxxer actors or that Neil Young pulled his cataloged from Spotify which lifts up anti-vaxxers?”

I have friends who don’t talk politics with their families – of course they run out of things to say. Your literal experiences are inward facing so how many times can you talk about the book you’ve been reading? Or what’s happening in your backyard as you struggle in vain to avoid a real conversation with your uncle who still supports Trump.

Westerners are collectively facing both our own mortality and our rapidly diminishing relevancy. I’m confident democracy will hang in there for the duration of my life, but I suspect not much longer. GenX might not only uniquely remember landlines and answering machines, we might add central air conditioning, retirement, and voting rights to our list.

I also disagree with the statement this is a state of being like no other we’ve known. A lot of people are alive who had a similar experience during World War II and some are still with us who grew up in the shadow of the Great Depression when the devastation of influenza, polio, smallpox, cholera, diphtheria, typhoid fever, and tuberculosis defined so much of life. Those born in the 30s and early 40s lived in the shadow of these outbreaks and the traumas their parents and neighbors experienced. My mother-in-law (b. 1938) shares somber stories her parents passed down as well as their response to advances in public health options like polio vaccinations.

When you read the news of how rampant and widespread sexual violence targeting children has been, it is improbable to think this is a new experience. What’s new is that it impacts all of us now.

  • 1,000 former youth sexually assaulted at the University of Michigan sports department.
  • Over 50 victims of sexual assault at the hands of Penn State sports coaches under the leadership of Joe Paterno.
  • 12, 250 known victims of sexual assault by Boy Scout leaders
  • 500 girls and women abused by Larry Nasser working for the US Women’s Gymnastics Association.
  • Likely millions of children over two millennia at the hands of Roman Catholic priests per the Grand Jury Report.

Perhaps the problem is that the further we moved from the expectation of epidemics, the further we moved from the tools and skills necessary to endure, to persevere. And talking is one of those tools. I believe my mother-in-laws stories from her parents have helped her walk through these past two years. Imperfectly, but well armed. She’s miserable, but she understands that this is necessary to endure a pandemic. And by extension, I often think of those stories myself as well as the stories my own family never told – even though they lived through similar times. My grandparents were all born between 1914-1922 so they lived with influenza, diphtheria, typhoid, polio, along with now preventable contagions like measles, mumps, and rubella. Not talking about it was their collective coping skills and that was not good. Knowing that they did survive and pursue their assorted ambitions is helpful, but I wonder if they thought it was like something they had never seen?

And there those of us who are still here living with anxiety or other debilitating illness like chronic trauma. Our coping skills and tools matter. We might even have wisdom or guidance to offer.

My guidance?

Try to communicate. Maybe just 2 or 3 back and forth exchanges on Messenger with someone casual about a non-intense topic. I have a friend with whom I “window shop” – something neither of us does in real life – sharing links to fun, ridiculous, and cute clothing we find online. There’s no expectation that we are going to buy it. It slows my brain down and distracts me with something silly. And if I’m struggling, I can message her “I need some shopping!” and she will reply as soon as she can because she knows what I mean. And soon she’ll find the weirdest possible pair of socks and send me a link.

Another tool for me is to start a conversation that’s not about me. I reach out to my friends about their hobbies or pasttimes. Also a distraction but one that is based on something that truly matters to them. I make time to ask questions I’ve always wondered about – a quilting technique, a recipe, chickens, and ham radios. It isn’t necessarily a long exchange, but it is genuine and usually learn something. It gets me out of my head and into the experiences of my friends. Starting a conversation based on genuine interest in someone else is healthy.

Something I did during the first year of the pandemic was send a cat pic of the day from my crew to a big list of folx. That was nice. Most people did not respond, some did. And when I stopped, they expressed how much they had liked it and did not put pressure on me to resume.

But there’s also this – the gaps in response are just longer pauses. A period where previously might have been a semi-colon. I have friends who simply don’t respond to social media for days on end, nor email. They are taking care of themselves. Or they get online at 11 PM ready to chat and I’m halfway asleep. None of this is personal.

What is personal is that it does impact the relationship. And that has to be okay. People change, priorities change even if that’s shortterm. And it will matter that we talk about all of this one day, even if not right now.

And I really do recommend connecting with a therapist or counselor. Enforced introspection might help you shake up some of the tools and strengths you didn’t give yourself credit for in the past. Many insurance companies permit teletherapy or video therapy. It can’t hurt to find someone to talk with that is really just there to listen.

https://youtu.be/uGDA0Hecw1k

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